FASTER services from Brighouse to London - that’s one of the priorities for Grand Central Trains boss Tom Clift just nine months after the direct rail link to the capital was introduced.
Now he is keen to encourage more passengers onto the services from the West Riding to London, currently three return services a day, convinced that once travellers have tried Grand Central for the first time they will be eager to return.
There have been more than 8,300 passenger journeys on the Brighouse-London route - a figure Mr Clift is keen to increase. “We are moderately satisfied with that but we are determined to do better. We listen to customer feedback and one of the things people have told us is that they would like faster journey times over the West Yorkshire section of the journey. We will be looking very seriously at saving 15 minutes on journey times to London.”
Grand Central introduced its services between London and West Yorkshire last May, restoring the direct link to the capital from towns like Halifax, Brighouse and Pontefract that had been lost for four decades. The open access operator already ran services between Sunderland and London and its next venture will be to introduce a direct link between Blackpool and the capital.
“Open access is the key. The basic reason that Grand Central exists is to bring better services to those places that did not have the advantage of direct links to London,” said Mr Clift. “We were only able to introduce the service through Brighouse because we are not competing with another operator on the same route.”
A recent survey by Passenger Focus showed that 95 per cent of Grand Central’s passengers were satisfied with the company’s services. Customer satisfaction has long been crucial to Grand Central’s operation and the competitive fares, carriages with improved leg and luggage room, refreshment facilities and, above all, welcoming staff have helped build passenger loyalty.
“Once people use us once they come back again and again. It’s persuading them to take that first step. We know people like the fact that they can buy tickets on the train on the day and that they don’t have to book ahead. We know they love the fares and the service. We know they like the journey times from London to Doncaster but don’t like the speed of the trains once they get into West Yorkshire - and that is something we are trying to address.
“One way round that might be to drop Pontefract from the route - where the level of take-up has not been as good as we had hoped - and start calling at Mirfield instead.”
Mr Clift admits the first few months of the new Brighouse service have been challenging and the severe winter weather which caused disruption on the east coast mainline before Christmas did not help.
“That was something we could do nothing about. But we are running a special promotion throughout February - traditionally a quiet time for travel - of return fares to London of just £25. We want to give people who have not travelled with us the chance to try Grand Central.
“We believe that small is beautiful and we just want to try and serve the community as best we can.”